I have discovered that many people try to win God’s favor by what they do. They believe that if they’re a good enough person, then surely the scales will go in their favor and God will judge them worthy of life in His presence. The Scriptures tell us about a person who thought that way before he had a face-to-face conversation with Jesus recorded for us in John 3. His name was Nicodemus; and as a Pharisee, he was one of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Nicodemus was used to working hard to obey everything God had commanded; but try as he might, he was not perfect. The Bible states in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Unfortunately, even the smallest infraction is serious, for we are also told in James 2:10 that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” We can’t earn our way to God.
As deeply religious as he was, Nicodemus still knew he was lacking something. Jesus told him that to find the acceptance with God he so desired he needed an entirely new life. God would have to make him a new creation. He would have to be born from above by the Holy Spirit. Thinking Jesus meant a physical rather than a spiritual rebirth, Nicodemus protested that this could never happen! And then Jesus reminded him of an Old Testament event to explain His point. He said: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
We read about that snake in the wilderness in the Old Testament book of Numbers 21:4-9. Venomous snakes had come upon the people and all those who were bitten quickly died. They cried out to God to help them as no remedy for the snakes’ poison could be found in the camp of men. Interestingly, God didn’t rid them of the snakes, but rather He gave them a way to be saved in their midst through faith. He told Moses to make a snake out of bronze and put it up on a pole, and He promised that those who looked in faith to it for healing would live. The way to be healed was simple enough, but it had to be a personal act. No one else could look at the bronze serpent for you. You had to look at it for yourself. There was no such thing as “self-help” involved either; for it was by faith alone that new life was given!
Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand that the story of the bronze serpent was a picture of what He Himself would soon do on the cross, and how those entrapped by that great serpent Satan and afflicted by the poison of sin might look to Jesus lifted up on that cross and live.
God loves all of us so much that He sent His one and only Son to be the cure for sin. We are not saved by our own endeavors. We are saved by faith alone. When we look to Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf, we are healed! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”